Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Chatham in Kent and grew up in the surrounding towns – called the Medway towns – so in and around Rochester, Chatham (on various estates), Gillingham. I left when I was seventeen and moved to London, but even though I’ve not lived there for a long time, Medway remains a potent influence.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother and grandmother were avid readers, and I was taught to read and love books from a very early age; but they were busy, working class women who’d left school early so the books in our homes tended to be Catherine Cookson and romances, Mills and Boon etc. Having said that I had lots of classic children’s books and I had a couple of teachers who were pretty amazing in encouraging me to read widely. When I was teenager I skipped school to go the library in town and would read anything and everything curled up in a chair by a window that looked out over the River Medway. I read a lot of Dickens, Daphne du Maurier and Stephen King. I used to read any of the Penguin Classics, because that seemed to be a foolproof method of reading; I was hungry to learn, but hated school. I suppose my earliest influences that I was consciously reading to learn to write were Angela Carter, Plath and Sexton and John Steinbeck. I loved his work.
Continue reading Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week

Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Born in London and grew up in New York until I was sent to a public school in the UK at the age of 13; an unsettling experience.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Lots of foreign writers. My mother was Russian and keen for me to read the Russian classics – which I did.

You founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 and worked as a successful publisher showcasing writers from around the world for many years. How easy was it to transition to being a freelance writer-editor?
I was still working at Serpent’s Tail when I completed No Man’s Land, my first anthology which was on First World War writing. The transition was seamless; the anthologies contain many writers who should be republished including writers never before translated into English. I hope they function to encourage readers and publishers to search out the original texts that the extracts are taken from. Continue reading Interview | Pete Ayrton | Author-Editor of the Week

Interview | Sam Mills, Dodo Ink | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m unusual in that I’m from a working class family – not many of us working in publishing, or getting published, for that matter. My parents weren’t great readers. My mum did notice and nurture my love of reading, however, by returning from jumble sales with bags of dog-eared books – Enid Blyton, Anne Fine, Roald Dahl. She was a wonderful mum.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I think ‘work’ is the wrong word. None of us are earning any money from Dodo. I’m a writer (I somehow earn my living from writing) who moonlights as a publisher. I guess it’s an unusual reversal: writing is my day ‘job’, though I love it so much I don’t regard it as a job. We’re running Dodo out of passion for the books which publish. Continue reading Interview | Sam Mills, Dodo Ink | Indie Publisher of the Week

BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds

Good writing and good ideas of all kinds make the world go round! Since we first began our celebration of independent publishing in February 2015, seasonal newsletters rounding up our exclusive interviews and curated eclectic reads have been emailed to friends in the publishing and media industries in the UK, US and France. All the wonderful feedback  received over the years has been sustaining and heartening. For readers who have missed out on our latest activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . .

To define is to limit” ― Oscar Wilde 

Dandy at Dusk published by Head of Zeus on 5 October, is hailed as a “future classic” by Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and founder of the London-based interior design firm, NH Studio Ltd. Meet the author, Philip Mann, to whom we asked, “Why do you write?” . . . Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.” He writes about Soho Bohemia, in his exclusive guest feature: “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns“. Our other guest writer this month, freelance writer, journalist and cultural historian C.J. Schüler, writes about all things dandy.
Continue reading BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds

Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

Continue reading Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Laia Fàbregas | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Barcelona. When I was twenty three I went to the Netherlands for a couple of months and I ended up staying there for twelve years. Now I am back home for seven years already, but I still feel like I am a bit Dutch.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a teenager I saw myself as a teacher. As a child, I don’t remember.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
When I was a teenager I read everything from Edgar Allan Poe and his tales made me want to write. Later on, when I was in art school in Barcelona, I read Opera aperta by Umberto Eco. That book helped me understand why I liked some books better than others. And when years later I started writing, it helped me see that I was doing it fine by doing my own way without thinking about who was going to read my words.

Continue reading Interview | Laia Fàbregas | Author of the Week

Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Scotland and moved to the US with my family at the age of four. We lived in the heartland of the US, in Nebraska, for several years, before moving to Texas, where we settled. I became an American citizen during my first year at uni. I started learning German, took lots of Spanish literature courses, and studied abroad in Berlin, Madrid, and Mainz, but in the end I became an English major because I wanted to access the creative writing courses offered by that department. I wrote a collection of short stories for my senior project. By the time I graduated I had gorged on literature for so long that I felt like I needed to do something completely different, so I went to work for a bank. I ended up in the Latin American group of an American bank, helping companies from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil access the US markets. I loved the clients but I didn’t love the work itself, which was incredibly demanding — I didn’t have the time or energy to read a book for three years so I left that industry for publishing. I worked for Andrew Wylie as his assistant for a year, then for Francis Coppola, launching his literary magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, finally settling at Words Without Borders, which published its first issues of writing from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, six months after I began working there in 2003.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
It’s so lowbrow that it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but I loved the Nancy Drew mystery series; I read every one, some multiple times. I think what appealed to me was the girl power — that these three young women were daring and fearless in the pursuit of truth and justice was quite inspiring. The book I probably read the most times was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I was captivated by the character Ram Das, who would sneak across the rooftops into the little girl’s garret with carpets and firewood, pillows and blankets, to make it a more pleasant place for her to live. It seemed utterly magical to me. I suppose I’m still rather fanciful.

Continue reading Interview | Samantha Schnee | Translator of the Week

Interview | Nicky Harman | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m based in Weymouth and in London. I go to China every year on visits. I speak and read Spanish, French and Italian but I only translate from Chinese. I have two kids, grown-up now, and two grandchildren. I keep reasonably fit, cycle, walk, swim and do yoga –– but all in moderation! And I love food.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
When I was very small, my father used to read us Grimms Household Tales every day after tea, and I loved that. Rapunzel (‘let down your hair’) was a particular favourite. This only happened in winter . . . my parents were farmers, and in summer, work went on till late in the evening. In my early teens, my father tried to wean me off children’s books and introduce me to the classics, and as a result, I went on strike and didn’t read any more fiction until I was in my thirties. After that, and somewhat belatedly, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens became big favourites. I wasn’t an entirely undutiful daughter: I carried around my father’s present of a leatherette-bound box set of Austen for twenty years without ever opening them, and then had to retrieve a couple of the volumes from houses in places like Sheffield and Wandsworth, where I had somehow mislaid them years before. I never did make headway with Trollope or The Brothers Karamazov, which my father kept pressing on me. Continue reading Interview | Nicky Harman | Translator of the Week

Interview | Heidi Perks | Author of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a mum of two small children and I live by the sea in Bournemouth. I spend many of the hours my children are at school writing, something I have always loved doing. Until four years ago when my youngest was born I worked in marketing. I left my job as a marketing director to spend more time with my family, and this was a perfect opportunity to start writing seriously.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I did always want to write a book, but as a child I don’t think I actually said I’d like to be an author. As with most children I flitted through a number of ideas. I wanted to be an air hostess (even though I hate flying now), and also a nurse (I would make a dreadful nurse, I am far too squeamish.) And for quite a long time I wanted to work in fashion as I loved textiles at school.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
From an early age anything by Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Famous Five and Adventure series books. Also as a child I really loved Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles, which I still have for when my daughter is a little older. As an adult the first book I remember being totally impressed by was Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Whilst I always loved reading this was the first one I couldn’t put down and it was a bit of a turning point for me reading the amount I now do.
Continue reading Interview | Heidi Perks | Author of the Week

Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a historian living in London. All my life I have loved travelling , learning about the countries I visit, trying to understand people and places, and explaining their connections through books. I am passionately European, have lived in Paris, Florence, Istanbul, Kuwait and Beirut, and loved the Middle East, before the current fanaticisms.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer or diplomat.

What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. Alfred Duggan’s and Rider Haggard’s historical novels. The Greek myths. Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy. Continue reading Interview | Philip Mansel, author & historian